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Brendan McCarthy
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Success follows versatile athlete

To describe what Newfoundland and Labrador's Lesley Bautista has been doing in athletics at the Canada Summer Games - make that one of the many things she has been doing this week at the track and field facility in Charlottetown - let us borrow, and then slightly amend, a famous saying by Teddy Roosevelt:

"Run deliberately and carry a big stick."

Bautista is a pole vaulter and a very good one, as proved by her fifth-place finish in the Games competition, but her history in the sport is not a long one. Officially, you can say five years, but that is solely based on what might be called a technicality.

Team Newfoundland and Labrador's Lesley Bautista competes in the female pole vault event at the Canada Games in Charlottetown on Wednesday. - Photo by The Canadian Press

To describe what Newfoundland and Labrador's Lesley Bautista has been doing in athletics at the Canada Summer Games - make that one of the many things she has been doing this week at the track and field facility in Charlottetown - let us borrow, and then slightly amend, a famous saying by Teddy Roosevelt:

"Run deliberately and carry a big stick."

Bautista is a pole vaulter and a very good one, as proved by her fifth-place finish in the Games competition, but her history in the sport is not a long one. Officially, you can say five years, but that is solely based on what might be called a technicality.

"It is a tricky question, because I did it when I was 16 at the Legion nationals," said the 21-year-old St. John's native, "but I had only learned to do it two weeks before the event and I don't consider it pole vaulting. It was ... kind me just carrying the pole."

It wasn't until a couple of years later when she began attending Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., that she seriously pursued vaulting. And even then, it took some doing.

A product of St. Bon's, she went to Holy Cross, a Jesuit university along the lines of Boston College or Notre Dame on a full, all-expenses paid academic scholarship, the Patrick and Louise Whealan O'Reilly Merit Scholarship, awarded every two years to a Newfoundlander who has attended a Catholic school.

But Bautista, whose competitive athletic career actually began as one of Newfoundland's best-ever gymnasts (she competed in the 2003 Canada Winter Games in artistic gymnastics and in five Canadian gymnastics championships) was determined to carry on in track and field and tried out for the Holy Cross athletic team as a walk-on.

"I wrote on my (introduction) sheet for the coaches that I did pole vault and for my personal best I put down a height I had cleared in practice, but I think they knew I wasn't very good at it," said Bautista, who at five-foot-one 1/2 hardly looks like a vaulter.

She did make the track team, but at first, she wasn't permitted to pole vault and was told that for that season, she would probably be only be doing running and jumping events.

But she continued to work on improving in the pole vault and before her freshmen year was out, was vaulting regularly and even in the conference championship.

"I went to practice every day and went all out every jump," said Bautista.

"I looked forward to Monday's and pole-vaulting practice."

In her second year at Holy Cross, she broke the school pole vaulting record and reset it several times during a career that saw her nominated by the university's for the NCAA woman of the year award, win school honours for outstanding athletic achievement, and earn all-conference honours in the Patriot League (which also includes schools such as Colgate, Lehigh, Bucknell, Army and Navy).

In the pole vault, she concluded her time at Holy Cross by winning the New England NCAA Division One title and earning a second-place finish in the conference championship.

Her success at university didn't just come at on the track. In each of her four of her years at Holy Cross, she made the Patriot League all-academic team and graduated this spring with cum laude honours. Next week, she'll begin attending Memorial University after being accepted to MUN's medical school.

These are Bautista's third and last Canada Games - she also competed in athletics in 2005 in London, Ont. - and it's been made that much more special by the presence of her parents, Dr. Anne Macdonald and Dr. Michael Bautista, as well as her younger sisters Kathryn, who joined her on Newfoundland's female 4x100 relay team in Charlottetown, and Jennifer, an alternate for the Games track and field team.

However, Bautista - who also competed in the 100-metre dash and long jump this week - isn't sure if she will actively continue in track and field, at least in jumping events, since year-round training will be difficult - there are no pole vault mats at the MUN Field House and the long jump pit at the facility was recently removed.

But she will still be involved in sports as a coach at the Cygnus Gymastics club. When asked how she'll be able to combine her medical studies with coaching, she laughs and says that after four years studying, practising for track and field 20 hours a week and spending even more time at competitions, she believes she can pull it off.

"It's good to be busy and it's always good to give back."

bmcc@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Holy Cross College, Boston College, Jesuit university Catholic school Patriot League NCAA New England NCAA Division MUN Field House

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Charlottetown St. John's Worcester, Mass. Notre Dame Lehigh London, Ont.

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